By AMANDA VINCENT
The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016, the seventh class to be inducted, had to wait an extra day to official become members of the Hall, but after winter weather in the Charlotte, N.C., postponed the induction ceremony from its originally-scheduled Friday night to Saturday afternoon, Jerry Cook, Bobby Isaac, Terry Labonte, Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner finally became official members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The three surviving members of the class — Cook, Labonte and Smith — were in attendance to be honored in person. Isaac was represented by his widow, Patsy Isaac, while Turner was represented by daughter, Margaret Sue Turner Wright.
“For me, it’s always been NASCAR,” Cook said. “I’ve spent my entire life in the greatest sport in the world and to be honored in this way
– tonight – to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the greatest names in the sport – is the pinnacle of my career.”
Also, the late Harold Brasington was recognized as recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Brasington was the founder of Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. His grandson, Harold Brasington III, accepted the award on his grandfather’s behalf.
Prior to the ceremony, NASCAR television broadcaster, the late Steve Byrnes, was recognized as recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. He was represented by his ston, Bryson Byrnes.
Here’s an overview of the racing careers of the latest five NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees:
Cook won six NASCAR Modified championships, with four of them coming in consecutive seasons between 1974 and 1977. Cook proved to be fellow Hall of Famer Evans’ stiffest competition, until Cook retired from competition in 1982. He didn’t leave the sport after hanging up his helmet, though. As a matter-of-fact, he’s still active in NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour. Cook was named series director when the Whelen Modified Tour started in 1985. He still holds a NACAR competition administrator position.
Smith is the Executive Chairman of Speedway Motorsports inc., the parent company of NASCAR-sanctioned tracks including Atlanta Motor Speeday, Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.
Smith began his career of race promotion at an early age, promoting his first stock car race in North Carolina at age 18. His early business ventures even included a NASCAR competitor, as he operated the National Stock Car Racing Association.
Smith eventually had the track now known as Charlotte Motor Speedway constructed. The track now hosts two Sprint Cup Series points-paying races each season, including the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race. The track also plays host to the Sprint All-Star Race, as well as races for other NASCAR series. Charlotte Motor Speedway was the start of Speedway Motorsports Inc., a company that went public in 1995 and is now the parent company of eight tracks that, together, host 12 Sprint Cup Series points-paying races yearly.
“I appreciate you all coming. I hope you have a great season, a great racing season,” Smith said. “I’m delighted and I’m glad to be a part of the (Hall of Fame) here, this is great.”
It just so happens that Turner was Smith’s partner in the construction of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Even so, his Hall of Fame career came from behind the wheel of a race car.
Turner, known as the “Babe Ruth of Stock Car Racing,” was a presence in NASCAR from the beginning. He was a competitor in the sanctioning body’s first strictly stock race in 1949. In those early days, Turner laid claim to the historic fact that he’s the only driver to ever win a NASCAR top-level race in a Nash. He also is the only driver to lead every lap of two consecutive races.
Turner made his way to victory lane in only his fourth race and went on to claim a total of 17 wins in the premier series. He was a winner on short tracks and on dirt, but he was also won the 1956 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, NASCAR’s first superspeedway, and at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway. Turner also won 38 races in 79 starts in NASCAR’s Convertible Division.
“At day’s end and chats catching up, Daddy would always say, anything is possible,” Wright said. “And it was, and for us, so it is.”
Isaac was a master of winning poles. He’s 10th on the premier series pole winners list with 49-career poles to his credit. He set a single-season record of 19 poles in 1969. Also in 1969, he won 17 races, but still finished the year sixth in the championship standings. He won the championship a year late in 1970, though, on the strength of an 11-win season. He also posted 32 top-fives and 38 top-10 finishes in 47 races. In all, Isaac won 37 races at NASCAR’s top level in a career that spanned the years between 1961 and 1976.
After competing at NASCAR’s top level, Isaac continued to compete in other series. He was competing in a Late Model Sportsman race on Aug. 13, 1977, when he asked for a relief driver with 25 laps to go. After climbing out of his car, Isaac collapsed on pit road and died early the next morning in an area hospital after suffering a heart attack.
“He died at the age of 45 doing what he loved to do,” Patsy Isaac said. “But he died way too soon. Bobby would’ve loved this honor.”
Labonte last competed full-time at the Cup level in 2004, but he continued to race part time until 2014, running his last race that year at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Labonte’s full-time NASCAR Cup-level career began the same year as that of another Hall of Famer, Dale Earnhardt, in 1979. After being a member of the 1979 rookie class, Labonte went on two win two Winston (now-Sprint) cup champions, first in 1984 and then again in 1996. The 12 year span between championships gives Labonte the distinction of going the longest period time between championships among NASCAR’s multi-championship winners.
“Before, I’d be introduced as a two-time champion,” Labonte said. “Now I’ll be introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. And I think that’s a whole lot cooler.”
What Labonte is, perhaps, most known for, though, is his “Iron Man” status. He competed in 655-straight Cup races, then a record. That record of most consecutive starts stood until 2002. Jeff Gordon took over the stat during the 2015 season.
Labonte won 22 races in his NASCAR Cup career, with those wins being bookended by one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races, the Southern 500 at Darlington. Labonte’s first-career win came in the 1980 Southern 500, while his final victory came in the 2003 installment of the race.
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